It's not every day you hear the head of the Pentagon asking for more cuts to his department, but that's exactly what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta did on Thursday.
In wake of a narrowly-passed GOP bill that spares the Pentagon while cutting $310 billion in federal spending, Panetta slammed the Republicans for catering to their respective districts instead of making "tough choices." “Defense should not be exempt from doing its share to reduce the deficit,” he told reporters. It's an interesting move given that the GOP bill frees the Pentagon from the automatic cuts in the Budget Control Act that Panetta called "devastating" just last year. But the bold statement from Panetta appears to serve both a political and pragmatic purpose.
Pragmatically, Panetta said he was opposed to the bill, which averts automatic Pentagon cuts, because he says it actually makes those cuts more likely to happen, not less likely. “By taking these funds from the poor, middle-class Americans, homeowners and other vulnerable parts of our American constituencies,” he said, “the guaranteed results will be confrontation, gridlock and a greater likelihood of sequester.” Panetta likely agrees with the conclusion of The New York Times Jonathan Weisman, who says in today's paper the GOP bill "has no chance of passing the Senate or becoming law." Panetta made it sound like he would rather see Congress negotiate cuts to defense than get hit with automatic cuts (which happens if no agreement is made). Unfortunately for him, it appears negotiations aren't going to happen and he's going to have to accept those "devastating" automatic cuts he bemoaned. That's because Democrats are realizing that accepting the automatic cuts is probably inevitable. “There is growing sentiment among Senate Democrats — reflected in comments this week by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — that the party should hang tough behind the Budget Control Act and gamble that strong medicine is needed to jolt the political system back toward the center and compromise," reports Politico's David Rogers.
Regardless of that, Panetta's remarks are likely to have a big political impact this election season. "Panetta has provided a clear narrative for Democrats as they prepare for budget battle: Accuse Republicans of being unwilling to make tough fiscal choices and portray their budget plan as a threat to national security," writes Politico's Austin Wright. "Democrats will undoubtedly be quoting the defense secretary next week as they make this argument." The left also got some help from Jon Stewart last night, when he slammed the GOP for turning a "suicide pact" (the Budget Control Act) into a "murder pact" because it spares the Pentagon spending.